My First Year in Bikini

Getting ready for a contest and competing

By: Sarah Vance
Magazine 18 #2

Reflecting on my current state of affairs, I was turning twenty-five, overweight, and unhappy. I knew I needed to reinvent myself. "Is this the best I can be? Am I the healthiest I can be? Is this the best physique I can offer myself?" I decided it was time for a major lifestyle overhaul.

Growing up, both my parents were active bodybuilders, so my decision to start my overhaul by going to the gym should be no surprise. I loved lifting, but did not have a concrete goal until I attended the 2012 Arnold Expo. My goal crystallized when I saw the bikini competition. I thought, "This is what I want to do." I wanted to become what each competitor portrayed onstage – a healthy, fit, and genuinely happy individual.

For my first competition, I had to drop a significant amount of body fat. I dieted hard, trained hard, and believed in myself. I also learned a valuable lesson; next time if I stay within 5 pounds of my stage weight competition prep will be a lot easier. I followed that rule for my next round of competitions and have been able to make lean muscle gains while keeping body fat to a minimum. I am coming in ahead of schedule because I didn’t go crazy during the off season. I also learned to be patient and trust that if I stick to my plan, my body will do what it is supposed to do. That said, here’s my plan. Why don’t you give it a try?

Sarah Vance poses on stage with trophy

Nutrition

My typical meal plan is six meals spread throughout the day over a 12 hour window. I drink a gallon of water each day and try to keep my meals at 2-3 hour intervals. This helps me stay sufficiently full and not suffer extreme hunger pangs or cravings. Even though my food choices are limited, I vary the way I cook, season, and present my food so it is more appetizing and does not become monotonous. I have two large food prep days each week when I cook everything and portion it into my Tupperware. This way there is no room for error and no guess work to what I am going to eat throughout the week.

MEAL #1 (9:00 am)
2 slices low fat turkey bacon, ½ cup dry oatmeal, 2 scoops vanilla UMP, 4 egg whites. I mix the oats, UMP, and egg whites all together with some cinnamon and make pancakes. I usually drink black coffee with this meal.

MEAL #2 (11:00 a.m.)
Apple with 1 scoop peanut butter; 4–oz. nonfat Greek yogurt or 2 pieces of lite mozzarella cheese sticks

MEAL #3 (1:00 p.m.)
4–oz. chicken breast; 1 cup mixed veggies (I prefer grilled peppers and onions); 6 oz. sweet potato; and a side salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing

MEAL #4 (4 p.m.)
2 scoops of Beverly International Rocky Road UMP and cinnamon mixed into pudding

MEAL #5 (6 p.m.)
Steak fajitas – 3 oz. lean steak, a cup of veggies, and 2 low carb tortillas

Fortunately, during my last contest prep, I had the luxury of having 200 flex calories each day. I can use these remaining 200 calories to eat any ‘clean’ foods. Below is what I usually ate.

MEAL #6 (9 p.m.) 2–oz. sliced turkey breast, 2 tablespoons hummus, and carrots; or if I have a sweet craving, I will mix UMP chocolate with a CarbMaster yogurt. My macros and calories may change as I go through prep based on what I need at the time to present my best physique possible.

Supplements

A structured supplement plan must go hand in hand with a structured supplement meal plan in order to attain maximum results. The staples of my plan whether I am in the heart of contest prep or in a maintenance stage are Lean Out, Fit Tabs, Glutamine Select, and Density. I typically add 7-Keto to aid in dropping body fat and appetite suppression as I get closer to the contest. My supplement regimen looks like this:

Supplement Schedule

  • 2 Lean Out taken 5 times a day before meals to help transport fat to be used for energy
  • 3 Density tabs 3 times a day to help maintain my lean muscle
  • 1 capsule of 7–Keto twice a day –– one prior to fasted cardio, one before my 1:00 pm meal
  • 1 scoop Glutamine Select pre–workout to aid in muscle recovery
  • 1 scoop of Muscle Synergy pre–workout for maintaining lean muscle mass and increasing strength, it also gives me a great pump
  • 2 Fit Tabs twice a day –– two in the morning and two in the evening. Fit Tabs are quite beneficial to overall health, and ensure that even as my diet reaches its most stringent phase, I am still obtaining all the essential minerals, vitamins, and micronutrients.

Cardio HIIT plyometrics variation

Cardio is another important additive to contest prep. My favorite type is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) first thing in the morning. During contest prep I do 15 minutes of HIIT three times a week prior to breakfast. This usually consists of sprints, stair stepper, or jump rope. At times I will do all three or add in some plyometrics for variation.

I used to despise cardio; now I don’t mind it at all. The key is finding something you truly enjoy. I love sprinting. It is hard, gets my heart rate up, and also involves quite a bit of glute activation. I also have learned that mixing it up keeps me interested and my body from becoming too accustomed to one thing.

A routine that really gets my heart rate up is sprinting as fast as I can for 30 seconds, doing 20 walking lunges, sprinting for 30 more seconds, doing 15 pop squats, and ending with 30 more seconds of sprinting. Repeat that a few times and I guarantee your heart rate will rise considerably. The other benefit of HIIT is that you actually continue to burn calories for 24 hours after your session in comparison to LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) type cardio.

Training

When I am training in the gym, I am completely focused on my workout and the specific body part being worked. If you blindly go through your workout routine, you’ll only be cheating yourself and hinder your ability to better your physique. My routine usually consists of high rep, low weight supersets, trisets, and plyometrics. My heart rate stays elevated during all of my routines. I especially like to train legs and glutes. Leg day usually consists of high rep squats, lunges, and plyometric work. Top bikini competitors are known for having really high, tight glutes, and the plyometric work has really helped me in that area.

A few of my favorite exercises for legs and glutes are:

  • Single leg straight squats: 15 reps on each leg for three sets. These are SO hard but they really work your glutes, legs, and even your abs since you have to maintain your balance.
  • Single leg skip ups: 15 reps, three sets per leg
  • Jump squats: 15 reps for 3 sets
  • Jumping switch lunges: 10 reps for three sets
  • Bench step ups stepping down and back into rear lunges: these really make your glutes burn the entire time
  • Single leg plate drag: 12 reps for three sets

I promise you that these exercises will set your glutes on fire.
For illustrations and descriptions of these exercises and more, go to JulieLohre.com and click on Exercise Library.

Presentation confident practice posing

I cannot stress to you enough the importance of your presentation. You must feel and look comfortable and confident on stage. On the day of the show you may be fatigued, excited, nervous, or all of the above. The last thing you want is to have to consciously think about each pose. I attended Julie Lohre’s Mock Competition and I will never forget her saying, "You will want to be able to pose in your sleep." Practice your posing regularly so that when you take the stage you can demand the judges’ attention, make eye contact, and be confident in the hard work you have done. I currently practice posing a minimum of 15 minutes, 3 times a week. The more you practice, the more natural it will become.

Getting ready for a contest and competing has been an unforgettable experience. I was proud of myself for just being able to stand on stage, and then taking the overall Bikini at the 2012 NPC Kentucky Muscle (in just my 2nd show) was truly a humbling experience.

I couldn’t have done it without Julie Lohre’s Team Fitbody. After that day at the Arnold Expo, I didn’t know where to start. It was a friend of a friend who told me about Julie’s Mock Competition. I decided to give it a try and see if this was something I really wanted to do. I was surrounded by educated and strong women with beautiful physiques. Julie beamed with her love of the sport and her passion for helping people make healthy lifestyle changes. I knew I wanted to be a part of this team.

I highly recommend joining such a team if you have the chance. It’s great to go through contest prep together, share ideas, laugh about each other’s experiences, or just talk about how good ice cream sounds. I reinvented my mind, body, and soul by embracing a healthy diet, sensible workout plan, and the support of my teammates.

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